RACE MATTERS: Seeing the Black Figure in the European TraditionLondon
Bust of a Moor, ca. 1700
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020
Blacks who were servants, slaves, retainers, entertainers, and more were present in the most powerful courts in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, although most of their lived experiences are lost to us. Yet objects like John Nost’s Bust of a Moor, an unusual example of a portrait bust of a slave by a known artist, introduce us to the life of the court “Moor.” This sculpture has been identified as a favorite personal servant of William III (1650–1702), King of the Netherlands and England. Crafted out of luxury materials in the classical fashion of men of rank, this sumptuous object embodies the paradoxes that are often embedded in images of Black people in European art. Wearing both a slave collar and a livery collar, his adornment speaks to contradictory states of enslavement and prestige. While fashioned in the terms of authority, this anonymous slave is outside of history or the possibility of subjectivity, without a stake in his representation.
In 2013 the artist Graeme Mortimer Evelyn was commissioned to respond to Nost’s Bust of a Moor. Installed in Kensington Palace, Call and Responses: The Odyssey of the Moor aims to imagine his humanity. Learn more here: The Court Moor: Blackness, Servitude, and the Artifice of Court Culture.
For more on this work, visit: https://www.rct.uk/collection/1396/bust-of-a-moor